On 10th January 2013, Seth McFarlane and Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards. There were quite a few surprising entries and omissions among the nominees, and already responses are cropping up, both praising and criticising the decisions of the Academy members. I wonder what prompts the vitriol of negative responses – what anyone these commentators to be wiser than the Academy members? If everyone is allowed their own opinion, what makes one opinion better than another? The answer is nothing, and similarly there is nothing to be gained by slamming the Academy for nominating X over Y. For me, it is interesting to examine the nominees, consider why these are the case, and predict who will win. Now that the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes have been awarded, some possible winners emerge. This may change, as the Directors’, Producers’, Screenwriters’ and Actors’ guilds of America present their awards, as well as BAFTAs. It shall be very interesting to look for an emerging pattern.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Amour, nominees to be determined
Argo, Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald
Django Unchained, Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone
Les Misérables, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Life of Pi, Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark
Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy
Silver Linings Playbook, Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison
There are some surprising entries here. The last time a foreign language film was nominated for Best Picture was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, so it is perhaps surprising that such a film has not been nominated since the number of nominees was expanded beyond five. Amour is a hot contender, nominated in several major categories, and perhaps demonstrates a more open approach than the Academy has shown historically. Beasts of the Southern Wild is another surprising but very welcome entry. A low budget film with a limited release, it clearly captured the attention of enough voters to earn this accolade.
Silver Linings Playbook is in the extraordinary position of being nominated for every major award, including all four acting categories. No film has been nominated in every acting category, not to mention also being up for Writing (Adapted), Directing and Picture since Reds in 1981. It seems statistically likely that Silver Linings Playbook will pick up something come Oscar night, but films with multiple nominations have walked away empty-handed before.
The other nominees are not surprising, as the various critical organisations as well as the Golden Globes have nominated Argo, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty. They are fairly typical Oscar fare, with two literary adaptations, two concerned with American history (both with slavery) and two true stories (both concerned with American involvement in the Middle East). Now Argo has picked up the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), and Ben Affleck was awarded the Golden Globe as well as the Critics Choice Award for Best Director. However, Affleck is not nominated for the Directing Oscar, and it is very rare for a Best Picture winner to not at least be nominated in that category – the last time was Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. As a biopic (sort of) concerned with American history, Lincoln is the most traditional nominee and does have the most nominations. But that is no guarantee of success, and awards could be spread among various films come February 24th.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Denzel Washington for Flight
Not many surprises here. Daniel Day-Lewis has been a dead cert for some time, and after the Golden Globes, Hugh Jackman and Joaquin Phoenix are also not surprising. Now that Day-Lewis has won the Golden Globe, the likelihood of him picking up the Oscar is even greater. Denzel Washington is nominated with surprising regularity, and he is here playing the right sort of role (guilty conscience, struggling with alcoholism). Bradley Cooper up for an Oscar is surprising, mainly because he is Bradley Cooper, best known for comedic roles. Like Robin Williams (though not Jim Carrey), Cooper’s move into respectability is facilitated by portraying mental illness. This seems to be part of the appeal of Silver Linings Playbook: it deals with mental illness in a way that is amusing, serious and moving. And it has made the star of The Hangover and The A-Team an Oscar nominee, remarkable!
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts for The Impossible
This category is surprising for including both the oldest ever nominee for this award, Emmanuelle Riva, and the youngest, Quvenzhané Wallis. Jessica Chastain has been a rising star over the last two years, with turns in The Tree of Life, The Debt, Lawless and The Help (for which she was nominated in 2012); Zero Dark Thirty continues her rise. With a Golden Globe win, she is now a strong contender to pick up the award, especially as this could be the only win for Zero Dark Thirty. Naomi Watts and Jennifer Lawrence have been here before and attracted great acclaim for their roles, so to see them nominated is not unexpected. Although Lawrence picked up a Golden Globe as well, her film is a comedy, and these tend to be overlooked.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin for Argo
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained
It’s the old guard! Between them, these five titans have six Oscars, four of them in the category of Best Supporting Actor. Furthermore, three of them won within the last decade – Alan Arkin picked up Best Supporting Actor for Little Miss Sunshine in 2006; Christoph Waltz received Best Supporting Actor for Inglorious Basterds in 2009, which, like Django Unchained, was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and now that Waltz has won the Golden Globe, he may be on track to pick up another award. Philip Seymour Hoffman was awarded Best Actor for Capote in 2005. Tommy Lee Jones has long been a reliable supporting player, receiving this same award for The Fugitive in 1993. And it’s the return of Robert De Niro, slumming it for over a decade, except for his fine comedic turns in the Fockers franchise. De Niro won Best Supporting Actor in 1974 for The Godfather Part II, and then Best Actor in a Leading Role for Raging Bull in 1980, but his last nomination was for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Cape Fear in 1991. Good to see you back, Bob.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams for The Master
Sally Field for Lincoln
Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook
And here is Silver Linings Playbook again, with Jacki Weaver’s 2nd nomination (her first was for Animal Kingdom in 2010). Another familiar face is Amy Adams, up for Best Supporting Actress for the 4th time (previous nominations include Junebug , Doubt  and The Fighter ). Sally Field and Helen Hunt are previous winners, but neither have been seen for some time, as Field’s last nomination was for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Places in the Heart in 1984, while Hunt picked up Best Actress in a Leading Role for As Good As It Gets. Like them, Anne Hathaway is a major actress in a supporting role. Her nomination is not a surprise, and Fantine in Les Misérables is a classic role that warrants a powerful performer (not to mention singer). With a Golden Globe to her credit, Hathaway can likely look forward to more success.
Best Achievement in Directing
Michael Haneke for Amour
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
This category features the biggest surprises and possibly injustices (depending on who you talk to/which comments you read, including mine at a later date). I confidently predicted that Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and either Quentin Tarantino or Tom Hooper would be nominated, along with Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee, but instead we get Michael Haneke, David O. Russell and Benh Zeitlin. This could indicate an upcoming sweep for Life of Pi or Lincoln, or indeed Silver Linings Playbook, or suggest a spread of awards among several films. It also restricts the likely Best Picture winner, as it would be very surprising for a film to win Best Picture that has not been nominated for Achievement in Directing. Many are likely disappointed by this, especially fans of Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. To make matters more confusing, though, Ben Affleck has won the Golden Globe for Best Director and the Critics Choice Award. If he wins the DGA, then it will be very hard to pick a winner.
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
For a while, it looked like Moonrise Kingdom might attract some major Oscar attention, but it has been largely overlooked other than this nomination, which feels somewhat like a bone thrown its way. Similarly, while Flight has certain prestigious qualities in its subject matter and pedigree, this and Best Actor are its only nominations. For the other three, it will be interesting to see if Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen becomes the only award for Amour, Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty, or part of a sweep. Django Unchained has won the Golden Globe, so that makes Tarantino a little more likely.
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell
As in the Directing category, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a surprise over the others. David O. Russell seemed a more likely contender here than in Directing, and the other three were always likely. At this stage there is no clear frontrunner, although I can see Argo picking this up if nothing else.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins
This category pleases me greatly, as I had/have high hopes for Roger Deakins. Nice to see Janusz Kaminski again, and Claudio Miranda is not a surprise due to the remarkable 3D cinematography in Life of Pi. I have little comment on Anna Karenina and Django Unchained as I am yet to see them, but historically cinematographers are a very professional, technical assembly of voters, so we can expect the actual work on display to rewarded (after all, the display is the work).
Best Achievement in Editing
Argo, William Goldenberg
Life of Pi, Tim Squyres
Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty, William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor
Editing is something of a silver bullet, as that which wins Editing often also wins Picture – examples include Crash, Chicago, Unforgiven, The Hurt Locker, as well as huge sweeping winners like Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Slumdog Millionaire. Therefore, to see five of the Best Picture nominees, as well as three Directing nominees, in this category is unsurprising. Furthermore, the editors who have won this award for the last two consecutive years, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, are not up this year, so no surprise win like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last year. I can see Argo picking this up, if only for its remarkable crosscutting.
Best Achievement in Production Design
Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright
Les Misérables, Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi, David Gropman, Anna Pinnock
Lincoln, Rick Carter, Jim Erickson
The somewhat archaic term “Art Direction” has now been replaced with Production Design, which is a better description for this category. All of these nominees require extensive production design so they all appear sensible nominations. Three are period pieces, and both Les Misérables and Anna Karenina are highly staged, the latter taking place largely on a theatrical set, so considerable effort will have made on the design. The design of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is exquisite, so no surprise to see this here. Life of Pi is perhaps the surprise here, as a great deal of the design is digital rather than physical. Is that not more a visual effect that a production design? Hard to say, and the nomination in this category may be indicative of the increasingly blurred line between the two.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood
No surprise to see the period films Anna Karenina, Les Misérables and Lincoln here, the costume designers having been nominated before. It is rather amusing that 2012’s two Snow White films are in competition here. Different release dates meant the two films barely competed with each other for audiences, but here they clash for costume.
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane
Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell
More love for period films in this category, and the costumes of Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves are just as detailed as those of 18th century France, as well as 1960s America. Quite a spread really.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
Argo, Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
Lincoln, John Williams
Skyfall, Thomas Newman
Some previous winners such as John Williams and Dario Marianelli, and it is very pleasing to see Thomas Newman as well, nominated in this category for the 9th time (he’s never won), as well as Alexandre Desplat in his fifth nomination. Life of Pi I recall having a very evocative score, so not much of a surprise either. It is interesting to see Anna Karenina cropping up a lot in these categories – while its acting, directing and overall quality have been ignored, it seems to have been admirably put together.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Chasing Ice, J. Ralph (“Before My Time”)
Les Misérables, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer (“Suddenly”)
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree (“Pi’s Lullaby”)
Skyfall, Adele, Paul Epworth (“Skyfall”)
Ted, Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane (“Everybody Needs a Best Friend”)
It was very amusing to see the host of the Oscars, at the announcement of the nominations, himself nominated in this category; Emma Stone capitalised on the comedic opportunity. Hopefully Seth McFarlane will be more entertaining than the last host to be nominated (James Franco). It’s nice that an Original Song was written for the film version of Les Misérables, amongst all those pre-existing songs, and it is a common occurrence for a famous stage musical, that is adapted for the screen, to have an original number written for it, which is then nominated for an Oscar. Previous nominees include Evita (“You Must Love Me”) and Chicago (“I Just Move On”). I am very pleased to see “Skyfall” in here – the film was never likely to receive much Oscar love, and hopefully Adele will perform it live at the ceremony.
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Argo, John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins
Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson
Les Misérables is not a surprise at all, considering the unusual live recording of the performers’ singing which then had to be mixed with other sounds. Argo’s soundscape is a remarkable cacophony of voices and bustle, so it is fitting to see it here. It is somewhat surprising that Skyfall is the only major action movie, as this is traditionally a category for such offerings as The Dark Knight Rises – indeed The Dark Knight collected this award as well as Sound Editing, but Christopher Nolan’s trilogy closer has been completely ignored. Clearly there is a lot of impressive Sound Mixing in Lincoln and Life of Pi.
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Argo, Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton
Skyfall, Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker
Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson
Much the same as the previous category, although Les Misérables is apparently less impressively edited than it is mixed. Not that I know what that means. This might be a pair of bones thrown to Skyfall.
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Marvel’s The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson
The surprise here is five nominees, as in previous years there have been fewer. Those represented here are not surprising, however, as this award is often another bone thrown to blockbusters like The Avengers, Prometheus and Snow White and the Hunstman. Life of Pi demonstrates its spread across the range of awards, but there seems to be far less love for The Hobbit than there was for The Lord of the Rings.
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Brave, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Frankenweenie, Tim Burton
ParaNorman, Sam Fell, Chris Butler
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, Peter Lord
Wreck-It Ralph, Rich Moore
Some leftfield choices here, such as Wreck-It Ralph and The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!, but I did predict that Paranorman could crop up here. Now that Brave has picked up the Golden Globe, it is a much stronger contender, but I can still see Frankenweenie pulling an upset.
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
War Witch (Canada)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
With Amour appearing so prominently in other categories, it is no surprise to see it here, and A Royal Affair is unsurprising as well. The nominees in this category are often quite random, but with a Golden Globe under its belt I anticipate more awards are coming the way of Amour.
Best Documentary, Features
5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi
The Gatekeepers, To Be Determined
How to Survive a Plague, To Be Determined
The Invisible War, To Be Determined
Searching for Sugar Man, To Be Determined
I know very little of these, so have no comment.
Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Inocente, Sean Fine, Andrea Nix
Kings Point, Sari Gilman, Jedd Wider
Mondays at Racine, Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan
Open Heart, Kief Davidson, Cori Shepherd Stern
Redemption, Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill
I know nothing of these, so no comment.
Best Short Film, Animated
Adam and Dog, Minkyu Lee
Fresh Guacamole, PES
Head Over Heels, Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly
Paperman, John Kahrs
The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare, David Silverman
Nice to see The Simpsons nominated.
Best Short Film, Live Action
Asad, Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura
Buzkashi Boys, Sam French, Ariel Nasr
Curfew, Shawn Christensen
Dood van een Schaduw, Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen De Waele
Henry, Yan England
These sound very nice.
With different nominees between the different organisations, this year will be difficult to predict. I think it likely there will be a spread of awards, rather than one dominating sweep. But I’ve been wrong before. As further awards trickle through, including the BAFTAs, the DGA, PGA, SGA, I’ll post my predictions as we approach February 24th.